Ending a committed relationship with your partner can be a hard chapter to deal with, especially when you share children, friends and even a business. Kati Dijane unpacks ways you can maintain a good relationship with your ex.
2018 started on a ‘splitville’ note as some of our favourite celebrities, including rapper Common, Usher, Jennifer Aniston and Tisha Campbell-Martin announcing that they were separating from their partners. Even with our different backgrounds a break-up is a painful experience we share in common but it’s how we deal with them that makes us unique as individuals.
When 32-year-old Palesa Mofokeng found out she was pregnant with her second child, she felt devastated because she knew deep down that her five-year relationship with Themba was drawing to an end. Things were no longer the same between them and what made things worse was that Themba kept cheating on her, which put a strain on their relationship. “Themba was a great guy until I fell pregnant with our first born three years ago. Although both my pregnancies were not planned I thought a baby would bring us closer together, but the opposite happened. His behaviour changed when my family asked when he would marry me when he paid inhlawulo (damages); maybe he felt pressured into marriage. He was no longer the same, smitten and committed guy who always talked about and planned our future. I stayed in that relationship a while longer, trying to make it work and hoping that he would come to his senses but I eventually accepted that I was wasting my time. He didn’t show interest in helping raise his son and instead of at least helping out financially he’d always go out with his friends, which made us fight a lot. I moved out of his place and went back home. Never had I anticipated being a single mother but I guess it comes with being in love and not using protection.” Fed up and enraged, Palesa ended the relationship in 2017 and hasn’t made contact with her ex-boyfriend since.
Calling it quits
Many people will relate to Palesa, whose story might be different from theirs but know how painful a break up is. Like, Palesa many ex couples share a bond, such as children, property or businesses that don’t make it that simple for them to untie their relationship completely. For that reason, many are compelled to maintain a healthy relationship for the sake of factors bigger than their break up. Everyone has a break up story to tell, whether married or not. According to a finding from Statistic South Africa on Marriages and divorces published in 2016 fewer people are getting married, while divorce rates are sky rocketing with more than 24 000 cases being recorded. Of these numbers, surprisingly it’s black women at the average age of 40, who were leading with 37,1%. The report added that couples filling divorce courts have children below the ages of 18. Breaking up with someone you once saw your future with is never easy and it often leaves you feeling emotionally scarred, hurt and even depressed. Cape Town based relationship coach, Shelly Lewin adds that when it comes to break-ups there is a sense of loss that you have to mourn. She further explains that when you are heartbroken you become ‘future broken’ as well because your hopes, dreams and plans for the future didn’t pan out the way you anticipated. Bowing out of a relationship means you have to allow yourself to mourn and come to terms with the break-up. So how can one accept closing a chapter of your love story? Shelly recommends that you have to move on and stop playing games and trying to hurt or manipulate your ex. In other words, accepting what has happened.
Picking up the pieces
Johannesburg based relationship expert, Thembi Hama says that moving on from a failed relationship is important for your wellbeing. While people deal with experiences differently it’s important to focus on the future and remove any reminders of the previous. “You also have to forgive your ex and yourself in order to move on from anger, bitterness and regret,” says Thembi “Use this time to introspect and rediscover yourself. Also, let go of the painful experiences you faced and move on with the good memories from the relationship.”
Life coach Rudzani Mashige adds that every person deals with a break up in their own personal way, however, the common effect of a break up is how it affects our emotions. “In dealing with the emotional turmoil after a break up, one has to use coping strategies. For most people with a support system, such as friends and family, and a resilient personality; moving on from a break up can be fairly easy. However, sometimes, the break-up is overwhelming and the loss feels great. Counselling can help you find healing, to learn coping strategies and help you reclaim your life as a single person again.”
Can we be civil?
To be frank, things might not be that simple, especially when children are not the only factor involved.
Break ups can affect others around you, especially children. When this is the case it’s important to set your feelings aside and focus on their wellbeing. Shelly advises that the best way to maintain any relationship is to be respectful, co-operative and collaborative, especially when you have to be in the same environment like the workplace, running a business or when you have to co-parent. “Your children are not pawns to use to manipulate or control your ex. From a practical point of view, structure is always good. Both parents and children need a fair and reasonable parenting plan so there is no grey area. Both parties need to know what their responsibilities and roles are in raising their children and they both have to honour that,” she states. It might not be easy at first but Thembi also suggests that you maintain direct communication to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings where possible. “If this is not possible, then have a trusted, reliable close third party to relay messages between yourselves. These should obviously strictly be about the child, their wellbeing, any upcoming school meetings or financial needs.”
Thembi also suggests that you introduce a new partner to your children only if you are sure of the stability of the relationship.
What happens then if you had the same circle of close friends? Who should give them up, since relationships with common friends may become divided, difficult and even awkward when you go through a break up or a divorce? Rudzani advises that since not everything will go your way it’s better for you to establish new friendships and relations with other people, different from your common circle of friends, especially when you are still going through the healing process. This doesn’t mean you have to cut off your friends completely, as long as they understand you are not comfortable to talk about or be in the same space as your ex.
Other factors to consider when going through your divorce is separating a shared property that was once your dream home. Rudzani suggests that the best way to deal with that is going through a legal route. Dividing assets can cause a lot of bitterness and tension. Fortunately, there are various channels that couples can use to separate their assets, including a legal divorce, or a divorce mediation. “Lawyers can assist the couple in dividing their assets, enabling the individuals to reach financial autonomy, after the divorce is finalised,” says Rudzani. It might be quite difficult to divide assets if you were cohabiting, especially if there was no legal contract from the beginning, but a divorce mediation can ease the stress of separating assets. According to Rudzani, divorce mediation refers to a process in which you involve a third party, such as family, legal advisor or a marriage counsellor, to assist in resolving disputes about separation of assets, co-parenting or managing a joint business.
While bad relationship experiences might convince us that the notion of a happily ever after only exists in fiction, healing, forgiving and maintaining a good relationship with your ex is a possibility that can only exist in your reality. Maintaining a healthy relationship once you break up must be a joined effort, especially when children and other important factors are involved. After all, when it comes to the matters of the heart, Joseph Campbell assures, “We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”